Producing electricity from heavy-ion fusion has been a goal in the international physics community for years. A new facility built in the United States could finally help investigators achieve this goal, by providing more data on how to accelerate, compress and focus intense ion beams.
The installation is called the second generation Neutralized Drift Compression Experiment (NDCX-II), and is located at the US Department of Energy’s (DOE) Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
The special type of particle accelerator was developed by experts with the DOE Heavy Ion Fusion Science Virtual National Laboratory (HIFS VNL). This collaboration includes scientists from Berkeley Lab, the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.
When scientists first thought of building NDCX-II, their main demand was that the installation should be able to produce a dense beam of high-quality ions that can be slammed into a solid target at high energies.
By studying how to efficiently accelerate, compress and focus intense ion beams, experts may gain more insight into how to design larger, more advanced components for heavy-ion nuclear fusion reactors. These use hydrogen isotopes (deuterium and tritium) as fuel.
“We’ve reached the official conclusion of the NDCX-II project, which was funded in 2009 with $11 million from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act,” NDCX-II project director Joe Kwan says.
“Installation of all accelerating and diagnostic modules was completed in April, and we are in the process of integrating the full 27-cell configuration. We’ll be commissioning the project in stages as we go forward,” adds the official, who is based at the Berkeley Accelerator and Fusion Research Division.
The ion beam the new facility can produce is capable of impacting a thin-foil solid target with sufficient energy to create a state of matter called warm dense matter. This is a critically important intermediary step towards creating the type of plasma needed to initiate nuclear fusion.
“Scientists and engineers from Berkeley, Livermore, and Princeton worked together seamlessly to achieve this important milestone and fulfill the charge of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to help spur further technological advances in science,” says Suzanne Suskind.
“NDCX-II is a textbook example of team science done well,” concludes the expert, who is a Federal Project Director with the DOE Berkeley Site Office.